U.S. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks to reporters after a House Republican conference meeting at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 19, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — U.S. Senate Democrats said Tuesday they are preparing their own short-term spending bill that they believe will garner bipartisan support, a decision that could stave off a partial government shutdown — and as House Republicans failed to advance two spending bills.
The Senate move would work as long as the House votes to approve whatever measures the Senate comes up with, but it’s unclear what’s going to pass in the deeply divided House.
“I’m working hard here in the Senate to make sure we do put together a bipartisan CR that will deliver on the necessary funding for disaster relief, supporting Ukraine, paying our wildland firefighters and more,” Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray said, referring to a continuing resolution, or CR.
“We need to show the American people that Congress can come together and help people and solve problems,” the Washington state Democrat added.
The announcement came as Republicans in the U.S. House, led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, remained stuck in the mud, unable to reach consensus on a short-term government funding bill as well as a path forward for the dozen full-year government spending bills.
House GOP leaders couldn’t find the votes needed Tuesday to advance a 31-day government funding bill that two factions of their own members agreed to just this past weekend. The lack of support forced them to pull a key procedural vote from the schedule a few minutes before the chamber came into session.
House Republicans were also unable to win enough votes to adopt the rule that would have set up debate and a final approval vote on the full-year Defense spending bill. That floor vote was 212-214, with five GOP lawmakers voting against adopting the rule.
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Republican Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Dan Bishop of North Carolina, Ken Buck of Colorado, Ralph Norman of South Carolina and Matt Rosendale of Montana voted against the rule, needed under House procedures to begin debate on bills that lack two-thirds support.
‘Reckless, cruel CR’
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer chided House Republicans for their partisanship, saying during a press conference the House GOP’s short-term spending bill is a “non starter.”
“It’s a slapdash, reckless, cruel CR,” Schumer said.
The New York Democrat said he wants the Senate to come together on a bipartisan continuing resolution, though he didn’t get into details.
“Our first job is to get the House to pass something. We’ll see if they can. But we need a bipartisan bill in each body,” Schumer said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky pushed back against the idea of a partial government shutdown, saying what is “critically important to the American people is for the government not (to) shut down.”
But McConnell said he couldn’t “predict exactly how this ends” and appeared to leave room for the Senate to move its own short-term spending bill.
“We’ll see what the House does and act accordingly,” he said.
McConnell didn’t voice support for the House CR, but said he supports “what the speaker is trying to accomplish.”
“He’s trying to avoid a government shutdown,” McConnell said.
Wisconsin senator slammed
Continuing resolutions, or CRs, are regularly used to keep the government funded for a couple of months while the House and Senate finish work on the 12 annual spending bills.
I think you’ve got some folks in our conference, who just simply will not pull their weight in the direction that conference legitimately needs to go
– Rep. Steve Womack, R-Arkansas
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved all of those bills on broadly bipartisan votes earlier this year and the Senate began debating three of them this month.
But that debate hit a snag last week when Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson blocked amendment votes on a three-bill spending package.
Murray criticized Johnson for blocking last week’s votes, as did New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who chairs the Commerce-Justice-Science spending panel.
“Make no mistake,” Shaheen said during Tuesday’s press conference. “This was an effort to help extremists in the House shut down the government.”
Murray said that while she is working to secure an agreement to quickly hold amendment votes, the Senate on Wednesday will hold a procedural vote “to get things rolling.”
“If we aren’t able to keep our bills moving on the floor, then an omnibus will be where we end up,” Murray said, referring to a huge package of all the spending bills. “I personally do not want to let a few members cause chaos and stop other senators, especially those who have not served on the Appropriations Committee, from weighing in on these bills on the Senate floor.”
Congress is supposed to pass the dozen annual government funding measures before the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, though lawmakers rarely complete their work on time.
So for more than two decades, lawmakers have leaned on a short-term stopgap spending bill that’s often called a continuing resolution to extend government funding for a couple of months.
But especially conservative House Republicans are furious the short-term spending bill would extend funding levels and policies approved last December during unified Democratic control of Congress.
So House Republicans are attempting to reduce domestic spending in the short-term government spending bill and add in several bills that stand no chance of passing the Democratically controlled Senate.
Oklahoma’s Cole: ‘Give and take and discussion’
House Rules Chair Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, said during floor debate on the rule for the Defense funding bill that passing spending bills through that chamber is just one step in the process.
Appropriations subcommittee chairs in the House and Senate will eventually need to head to conference to reconcile their differences.
“As my friends know, the Democrats control the United States Senate and we have a Democrat as the president of the United States,” Cole said. “So wherever we end up, it’s going to be a process of give and take and discussion. But it’s important that the House has an opening position.”
Efforts to work out final spending bills that can pass both the House and Senate would be considerably sidetracked if Congress doesn’t approve a short-term stopgap spending bill before Oct. 1.
Compromise on such a continuing resolution continued to elude House Republicans on Tuesday.
House Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry told reporters following a closed-door meeting that members have two choices on government funding.
“One path is where we offer something and the American people can see what we stand for,” said Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican. “And the other path is, quite honestly, accepting whatever the Senate sends us, which is likely to be 100% worse than everything and anything that we stand for.”
The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved all 12 of the annual government funding bills with broadly bipartisan votes. All of the House’s bills approved in committee were approved solely with GOP lawmaker support.
House Republicans, Perry said, need to understand that collectively they represent millions of Americans and that there will be different opinions about funding levels and policy throughout the process.
“You’re not going to get every single thing that you want,” Perry said. “But if you don’t do something, you’re not going to get anything.”
House GOP ‘personality conflicts’
Arkansas Republican Rep. Steve Womack, chair of the Financial Services appropriations subcommittee, said following the morning meeting that the conference was still “heavily divided” on how to fund the government past the Oct. 1 deadline.
Womack said the disagreements are not just about spending levels or federal policy, but about personal dynamics within the House GOP Conference.
“I think there are personality conflicts at work involving certain members and the speaker and that this is coming down to a situation where they want to fight the speaker,” Womack said.
“And that is really unfortunate. We’re the governing majority with a narrow majority, and we have to have everybody on the rope pulling in the same direction,” he added. “And I think you’ve got some folks in our conference, who just simply will not pull their weight in the direction that conference legitimately needs to go”
Some especially conservative House Republicans, such as Florida’s Matt Gaetz, have threatened to remove McCarthy through a motion to vacate, which any one lawmaker can bring up for a floor vote.
Gaetz has argued that the California Republican has not kept his promises made in private to hard-line Republicans in January in order to secure his position as speaker.
One of those promises, Gaetz said, was members would vote on each spending bill individually, rather than together as an omnibus.
“This was promised, and it has not been delivered,” he said.
Gaetz said that he would not support any continuing resolution, or CR, that would fund the government at current spending levels.
“My objective this week is to defeat this CR,” Gaetz said. “I do not have an objective beyond that.”
Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie, who sits on the House Rules Committee, said that he does not fear a government shutdown.
“When you go into a shutdown, you need to have a message that all of your conference can stick with to the end,” he said.
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